Since Harry Potter it feels as though there has been a revolution in the world of children’s publishing. This was a genre that JK was warned would never make her rich. It was the forgotten, overlooked little cousin to real writing; not so much derided, as rather indulged nostalgically. Now, it has not only reinvented itself but publishing as a whole. It’s got the attention of the younger generation, a generation who are as likely to dream of being Stephanie Meyer as they are to aspire to be Rihanna.
Now sitting in the age group who is officially allowed to look back with misty eyes on my childhood (tho not to groan getting out of a chair…honestly people…) I’m not, like some, feeling pissed off at the new in-genre. I quite like the idea of writing kids books. It has always seemed that great children’s stories have something universal at their heart, something that never ages, a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. They ask questions rather than give answers, regardless of genre they are all mysteries and adventures, whereas adult literature can often feel more like a chore. Even when they seek to entertain there is something prosaic about them, as if in adulthood we have become so rooted in the expected patterns of life, literature and love that we can’t really, even in our greatest flights of fantasy, ever really free ourselves.
For me the issue is not that this genre is getting attention, it is that much of it is really adult lit in disguise. Twilight is not the wonder of falling for a creature beyond our ken and becoming lost in his world, a metaphor for the transition to adulthood made real and fun.. It is an adult woman with an adult woman’s sensibilities who is seeking to escape the world, not understand or explore it. The emphasis is on being overwhelmed and surrendering, not on taking charge and pushing your own limits – an adult’s daydream not a child’s adventure. And it is this – these elements – which are being replicated in their thousands. Why? Because they are easy to understand and recreate, because they are driven by their own tired stressed lives? Or – and don’t shoot me – because they don’t have a writer’s wonder?
In the world of vampires no one lost themselves more thoroughly than Anne Rice. Not my cup of blood, I prefer tea, but she never offered us answers, only a world, real as our own, filled with questions. It was this, even as a child, I can remember thirsting for. To me, the writer must have that same wonder and imagination. And great books, for me, must offer something more than a bored housewife’s daydream.
Harry Potter, perhaps befitting the book that began it all, was precisely what I was looking for. I truly believe this book will become a classic, while most of its successors will pass into obscurity. Unfortunately the lessons that could have been learned from it, weren’t. The depth and texture of this world and the characters within it are up there with the best fantasy in adult literature. The thought she put into building this world would put a city planner to shame. She never talked down to her readership. If her morality was simplistic, it was still secondary to providing a great story. The limits of magic represent the limits of life, not the limits of her imagination; the needs of the characters reflect the needs of the characters, not the needs of the writer.
There used to be no divisions within kid’s writing – a story was a story. Now I am beginning to see one – that between the younger slighter ditties which function as educational tools and the schlocky romances read more by women 18+ than kids. And like the division in the adult world between genre and litfic I fear that the stuff that certainly I want to see, is slipping into the crack.
Kids aren’t stupid but they are often isolated. Life can pile in on top of you and everything is twice as terrifying first time round. Reading can be a hand that pulls you through – but not if it is an adult lecturing you, or worse, so busy with their own needs they forget all about you.